Why You’re Stuck

About a year ago, I decided that goals were driving me crazy and – poof! – I got rid of them. Ok, not entirely, but I did create a new metric of how to judge my own success that didn’t involve crippling comparisons to other people.

And, man, has it been liberating. I’m not kidding. When I made a conscious shift in focus from goals to values and from “how am I doing?” to “how am I serving?” – things finally clicked and I’ve honestly never felt more content.

So you can imagine the surprise when I found myself in the middle of a mascara-smeared crying jag recently for “no reason.” While I truly didn’t know what was wrong, I’m pop psychologist enough to know that the temptation to distract myself with junk food and junk TV wasn’t going to solve the problem. Nope. There’s a centuries-old process for getting yourself out of mental quicksand and it goes like this:

Observe your thoughts.

Reflect on your thoughts, and then

Choose your thoughts.

For the next three hours, that’s exactly what I did. I sat in my office, literally picking each thought apart one by one, e.g.

“You’re stressed.”

Clearly, but why?

“You’ve got a book launch in eight weeks.”

Ok. What – specifically – about that is stressing you out?

“There’s too much to do and not enough time.”

There’s never enough time. What project are you worried about?

“The group coaching.”

Why?

“Because it’s a massive undertaking that involves at least 40 more pages of copy, templates, worksheets, designers, videographers, selling, and technology that could fail live in front of hundreds of people.”

A-ha. And there it was.

The internal wrestling match actually went on much longer than that, but for the sake of word count I’ll spare you the details and just cut to the chase: When you can sit down and have a staring contest with your feelings, you tend to uncover the Truth with a capital T.  

See if this sounds familiar:

You have something you want to achieve.

You’ve had the end game crystal clear in your head for months if not years.

You’re massively in love with the idea and pregnant with possibility…

…but you can’t seem to give birth.

Turns out, when there’s a disconnect between your big idea and seeing it come to life in the world, the culprit is usually one word: Fear. Obvy, much has been written on this, but I’m diggn’ the latest from Harvard Business Review. In a recent article on creativity blocks, the authors broke down the top four fears that hold us back. I’ll save you the $6.95 download fee and just tell you they are:

Fear of the Unknown (What if things don’t go as planned?)

Fear of Being Judged (Who am I to do this?)

Fear of the First Step (Where do I even start to pull this together?)

Fear of Letting Go (It’s not ready.)  

When trying to make huge things happen in our lives, we typically bump up against not one but all of these fears along the way. And you already know how the movie ends: We put off the big idea and, thus, stay stuck. But here’s how you can get out of it:

Call yourself out for being afraid. Your body tends to treat fear and stress the same. Listen to it. In my case, I had the usual stress symptoms, e.g. tight chest, breakouts, and wanting to be left alone. When I ignored those, my body sent me tears to force the issue.

Pinpoint what exactly you’re afraid of. The reason the Harvard list is so brilliant is because it actually gives language to a topic as broad as fear. Once I realized I was stalled with a big ‘ol case of “fear of the first step” I was able to deal with it by simply shifting my focus to little wins. By the way, this is a different strategy than I would have used if my fear were, say, being judged.

One of the most frequent questions I get on the road has nothing to do with careers – it’s on how to write books – and my answer is always the same: “Do the work.”  I’ve learned from experience that – at the end of the day – hemming and hawing over the root cause of procrastination is only helpful if it lights a path forward. Beyond that, no one gets a pass from soldiering through the mud. Guess who’s taking her own advice now?

P.S. If you like these weekly blogs, get the daily dose here: http://www.facebook.com/emilybennington

7 Comments

  • Nigel says:

    Hi Emily,

    Any thoughts on how to avoid the fear of being judged?

  • Nigel- It’s still all about the little wins, you just approach it different. Fear of the first step is about overwhelm, for example, while fear of judgment is about confidence. So then the question becomes, How can you have little wins (gains) in confidence? First thing I would do is run your product, message, service, etc. through a small focus group of people you trust. Their feedback (and accolades) will help you take a step forward. Then, after you test your “big idea” maybe you don’t release it to a wide audience. Maybe instead of trying to reach 100 people, you only go after 25 on the 1.0 version, 40 on the 2.0, etc. Not knowing your industry it’s hard to pinpoint what your little wins would be, but the idea here is to baby step it forward until you look back and see you’ve actually traveled miles.

    /EB

  • Emily,

    WOW. And THANK YOU! I’m in the middle of (procrastinating) on two HUGE projects that each (and both) have the potential to change the entire course of my life. And what do I do? I sit and drink wine and watch Sex and The City for 6 hours. Why? Because I’m just like you. WOW, did I need to hear this today. THANK YOU! Ok….I’m off to change the world now (plus, I’ve already seen this SATC episode 30 times)……

    Joelle
    Wheeling, WV

  • Hi Joelle! I’ve probably seen the same SATC episodes 30+ times too. Lol. I’m glad the post resonated with you. Good luck with your projects!! xo /EB

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